Senate committee to examine Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010

President Barack Obama signed the Tribal Law and Order Act on July 29, 2010. Photo by National Congress of American Indians via Flickr

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee will be taking a look at the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 at a hearing next month.

President Barack Obama signed H.R.725, a bill that included the Tribal Law and Order Act, on July 29, 2010. The measure was written to help tribes and federal agencies address high rates of crime and victimization in Indian Country.

"All of you come at this from different angles, but you’re united in support of this bill because you believe, like I do, that it is unconscionable that crime rates in Indian Country are more than twice the national average and up to 20 times the national average on some reservations," Obama said at the signing ceremony at the White House. "And all of you believe, like I do, that when one in three Native American women will be raped in their lifetimes, that is an assault on our national conscience; it is an affront to our shared humanity; it is something that we cannot allow to continue."

One significant provision allows tribes to impose sentences of up to three years as long as they update their justice systems to protect the rights of defendants. The Indian Civil Rights Act restricts punishments to one year, a limitation that tribes said was hindering their efforts to improve public safety on reservations.

The requirement laid the groundwork for the Violence Against Women Act of 2013. Tribes that update their justice systems in accordance with the the Tribal Law and Order Act are also able to exercise jurisdiction over certain non-Indians for some domestic violence offenses.

The VAWA provision went into effect nationwide in March after a successful two-year pilot project saw no challenges to tribal authority over non-Indians.

The Tribal Law and Order Act also requires the Department of Justice to allow tribes to access national criminal databases, another issue that was hindering public safety. A pilot program was just launched with 10 tribes as part of the Tribal Access Program for National Crime Information.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs is also taking its own steps to allow tribes to access the same information as part of the Purpose Code X Program.

Another major provision requires federal prosecutors to disclose declination rates, or the numbers of cases in which they fail to bring charges. Two reports have been presented to Congress so far, showing that declination rates have remained more or less the same between 2011 and 2013.

Prior studies -- including one by the Government Accountability Office -- found that federal prosecutors were turning down as many as 50 percent of Indian Country cases in the years prior to the passage of the Tribal Law and Order Act.

A report covering the year 2014 does not appear to have been released publicly at this point.

Finally, the law created the Indian Law and Order Commission. A panel of experts spent three years studying a wide range of justice issues and recommended some sweeping reforms affecting tribes in Alaska and tribal jurisdiction over all people who commit crimes on their lands.

The Senate committee's hearing next month will take place on December 2.

Committee Notice:
Tribal Law and Order Act (TLOA) – 5 Years Later: How have the justice systems in Indian Country improved? (December 2, 2015)

Indian Law and Order Commission Report:
A Roadmap For Making Native America Safer (November 2013)

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